Back by popular demand is guest co-host Janette Barnard. She co-hosted on episode 225 about direct-to-consumer meat, and is back today with Lamar Steiger, a consultant who is helping Walmart rethink their beef supply chain. They’re doing some really innovative stuff trying to improve quality and create shared value.
Janette is the author of Prime Future, a weekly newsletter about trends in the animal protein value chain, and she’s the managing principal of Rock Road Consulting helping companies launch, source, and fund innovation. She’s also just a great friend and my go-to source on all things animal agriculture.
Also on this episode is a startup spotlight featuring Ceres Tag.
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Are agtech and regenerative agriculture at odds? Regenerative is committed to working WITH nature, and agtech is often trying to manipulate nature in some way. Agtech is often automating and trying to displace human capital, when regenerative is often trying to bring people back to the land. Agtech often includes buying new hardware or paying a monthly as a service fee, when regenerative is trying to rely as much as possible on what can be generated and then regenerated from the land itself. Those are the ideas that were floating around in my head when I decided to put together this episode.
Probably the best part of doing this podcast is getting to hear from those of you listening. A few months ago I got an email from a listener politely asking that I feature more European stories on the show, particularly something from Switzerland or Germany. I wrote back and asked what topics he thought listeners would find most interesting in that area, and he responded maybe something in either agtech or regenerative agriculture.
That listener’s name is Max Weitz, and he recommended a friend of his to be on the show, Benedikt Bosel. After hearing more about both of their backgrounds, I invited both of them to be on the show. I’ll tell you why and what this has to do with my thoughts on agtech and regenerative in just a moment.
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Today’s episode is a great example of true agricultural innovation. Most of you know our food system is heavily dependent on chemical fertilizers to efficiently get nutrients, especially nitrogen to most of our crops. However, some of those crops, think legumes like soybeans, pulses, and peanuts, have a symbiotic relationship with fungi that enable nitrogen fixation from the air and make it available for the plant.
Today’s guest asked the question, what if we could make this happen on all crops? Especially on corn, wheat, and rice, which together make up a significant chunk of the chemical nitrogen consumption. We have on the show Karsten Temme, CEO and co-founder of Pivot Bio. Pivot’s first product, Proven, is a microbe that when applied to corn can allow the plant to have a similar symbiotic relationship to, in a way, fix it’s own nitrogen from the air. If this is sounding familiar, it’s probably because we had Pivot Bio’s Director of Agronomy on episode 215, talking about the gap between farmers and agtech.
Almost a decade ago, he started Pivot Bio with co-founder Alvin Tamsir. In this conversation we dig into how their technology works, why it’s significant, and how synthetic biology in general could impact the future of agriculture. I’ll drop you into the conversation where Karsten is describing the why behind Pivot Bio.
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“We’re going to bring a lot of new, interesting, innovations leapfrogging across the world.” - Francisco Jardim
Today we explore an international agtech powerhouse, Brazil. And we have the perfect guest to talk about the developing agtech ecosystem in the country, Francisco Jardim. Francisco is the Founding Partner at SP Ventures which invests across multiple industries, but as you’ll hear, he has particular expertise in agtech. Francisco has been investing with SP Ventures for over 13 years, and focuses on Brazilian startups.
“We’re leveraging technology, new digital technology, to be able to make less friction, less costs for farmers to be able to empower themselves through the use of their data and access more sophisticated financial services products.” - Francisco Jardim
Historically, mainstream multinational ag companies have used fairs and large sales teams to expose farmers to new technologies. Francisco shares that by virtue of the spread of connectivity and digital technologies, farmers are more open to new technologies without following the formerly used labor intensive method of selling. Start up companies are poised to employ strategies that don’t involve a lot of people or a large marketing budget and that lend themselves to be more covid friendly. Preconceptions of farming operations being innately archaic and resistant to digital technology are quickly being proven wrong with ever-expanding digital connectivity.
“We’re seeing the grandfather become a heavy smartphone user. We’re seeing the father become a very hardcore ambassador of new digital technologies and the son of course. What’s beautiful is these new technologies, they’re bridging the gap between the grandfather, the father and the son in the family business....it’s becoming transgenerational and even generational integrative as a function.” - Francisco Jardim
For new startups, Francisco recommends prioritizing extensive testing and identifying that you have “positive unit economics.” By focusing on these two priorities you avoid wasting a lot of money and generating “negative repercussions from your customers” while you troubleshoot your product. He also recommends paying attention to specific buying windows (planting, seeding, harvesting, etc.) to know when is the best time to reach out to the producers and what timing will provide them with the most benefit.
This Week on The Future of Agriculture Podcast:
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We’re nearing the end of 2020 and I’m planning my 2021 content. Do you have suggestions for topics to be explored? Tweet them to me @timhammerich or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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